John Andrews: Reinvigorating the Farm to Table Restaurant
Dan Smith, the chef who opened John Andrews restaurant in 1991 in an old farmhouse in Egremont, MA (on the Berkshire/Columbia County border), has always cooked with as many local ingredients as possible. “They weren’t as easy to come by back then,” says Smith, who grew up on a crop-and-livestock farm in Iowa. His instinctive understanding of farm culture has made his restaurant a beacon in the Berkshires for diners craving meals with integrity and ingenuity. “I suppose you’d say that when we opened we served New American Cooking,” says Smith, whose menu still features some items from the early years such as fried oysters with Equinox greens and anchovy vinaigrette ($12) and seared duck breast and duck leg confit with maple balsamic glaze ($28.) “I was inspired by Northern Italian cooking too, and I am trying more than ever to focus on using what’s local.”
Now that Smith is the sole owner (after divorcing the wife with whom he started the restaurant) John Andrews is having a renaissance. On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights, there’s a new three-course $30 prix fixe menu (in addition to the regular menu) that changes every week and highlights ingredients from a single farm in the region with a choice of two appetizers, two entrees and one dessert. Smith sees the concept as a way not only to celebrate local farmers but also to stoke his own creative juices. Recently, he featured grass-fed beef from Schober Farm in Austerltz, NY (which, until recently, had been a dairy farm for 52 years.) The appetizers were beef skewers with rice noodle salad and sweet dipping sauce or meatloaf with wild arugula, poached egg and mostarda. The dessert was a ricotta grape jelly donut made with Rose Schober’s preserves.
The week before, Smith’s special menu featured Zehr and Sons Mushroom from Ghent, NY, where Jeremy and Doreen Zehr grow oyster and shittake mushrooms and make tradtional root beer and preserves: The entrees he offered were Pan-roasted bronzino with mushroom conserve, fingerlings and spinach; and fettucine with duck confit, mushrooms and herbs. The dessert was a root beer float with vanilla ice cream and a gingerbread cookie. The week before that he featured the probiotic artisanal cheese of the Amazing Real Live Food Co. that’s based at Chaseholm Farm Creamery in Pine Plains. He paired the Stella Vallis Tomme with leeks and sweet peas for a risotto and made Camembert mashed potatoes to go with braised lamb from the Berkshires’ Lila Berle.
“I think I was the first local chef who Lila sold to,” says Smith, who is active in Berkshire Grown and has started working with high school students through the Railroad Street Youth Project. “She only sells an entire lamb, which means you get two racks, two loins, etcetera. So we keep coming up with ways to use other bits and pieces of the animal. Recently, we used some of the meat to make a lamb pancetta that we served with Equinox mesclun.” Smith is so committed to local farms that he has profiles of some two dozen that he works with on his new website.
How did a farmboy from Iowa get to the Berkshires? “I was cooking in Florida and I met the owner of the old Ragamont in Salisbury and they needed a cook,” he says. “I came up and cooked German food for two summers. I tried to put other things on the menu but the customers seemed to only want the German food. Then this restaurant was for sale, and we bought it so I could do my own thing.”
Now, he really feels like he’s doing his own thing, and as a symbol of the new era, he’s designed a new logo—a pumpkin-colored stencilled image of a farmhouse on a grape-colored ground. “This was a farmstead, and the image on the sign is based on the old ice house that you can see from the back of the restaurant,” he says. He also has a new tagline that’s trendy but true: John Andrews - A Farmhouse Restaurant.
224 Hillsdale Road, South Egremont, MA; 413,528.3469
Open Thursday - Tuesday at 5 p.m.